Looking Back to 1936: Electrical storm takes toll in damage


This look back at Paso Robles history comes from local newspapers in the Paso Robles Area Historical Society collection. News for this column is selected with the assistance of the society’s Vice President Nancy Tweedie and Research Director Jan Cannon.

Excerpts from ThursdayJuly 91936, Paso Robles Advertiser:

Electrical storm takes toll in damaged property and stock losses

The heavy electrical storm which centered over the western San Joaquin and Salinas Valley areas Monday, took its toll in damaged property, threatened disaster and loss of stock and harvesting time—bring heavy showers of comparatively short duration throughout the district.

Largest single loss in this immediate area was that at the Santa Margarita Pump Station of the Union Oil Co., where a 55,000 barrel oil storage tank burst into flames when it was hit by a bolt of lightning, shortly after 5 pm

Paso Robles history

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Protect nearby tanks

Crews from the entire Union pipeline system were rushed to the scene of the blazing oil. Earthwork dikes were hastily erected around the burning tank, and four steam driven pumps were pressed into service to empty the burning cauldron as rapidly as facilities would permit.

Traffic on the highway, and all trains passing through the fire zone were held up from 3:15 to 4:30 am, until it was certain that the burning oil would confine itself within the earthwork dikes.

Total damage was estimated at over $75,000.

When a little more than half emptied, the terrific heat which was generated, and which warmed the upper rim of the tank to a red hot brilliance, caused it to boil over about 3:15 am Tuesday.

No further damage

Although it was believed earlier in the evening, that the fire might spread to two nearby tanks of similar capacity, the absence of wind, and the precautionary dikes prevented any further damage. With no means of quenching it, the fire was allowed to burn itself out.

Police patrol

Deputies from the Sheriff’s office, and members of the California Highway Patrol were called into service to keep the traffic lane open on El Camino Real, just a few hundred yards from the blazing inferno, and to prevent the thousands of curious from approaching too close to the danger zone.

Heavy showers

The storm, which appeared without warning or forecast, brought a heavy shower to Paso Robles about 11 am Monday. It had apparently spent itself then, until about 5 pm, when an electrical display began, which brightened the sky intermittently all through the evening until the early morning hours. This was accompanied by fitful showers.

Power lines hit

Charles J. Kelley, of the Midland Counties Public Service Corporation, reported Tuesday morning that power lines were hit in 20 different places throughout the county during the storm. Repair and maintenance crews were kept busy all night, he stated. Greatest damage resulted near Santa Margarita and up the coast, although there were no serious interruptions to service.

Lightning struck and ignited a pole near El Pomar, but rain had quenched this within a few minutes, just before the repair crew arrived. There were no service interruptions.

Forest fires

At King City, a cloudburst accompanied the electrical storm, and more than a dozen forest fires were started in the Lockwood and Jolon sections. Most of these were put out within a short time, but a heavy fire was reported out of control late Tuesday, at Ruby Gulch on the Hearst ranch. It was estimated that 300 fire-fighters had been sent into the area.

Eight cows of the Forden Farms dairy herd, were killed by lightning, and employees of the milk plant there were thrown to the floor when the bolt struck.

Many other fires were reported throughout the entire storm area, none of which claimed serious proportions.


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Thank you to sponsors of Looking Back

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Addings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.

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